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\Ut Hex i f for the H isto r) ' 
q) Kelighi 


BRILL Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

On the State and Prospects of 
the Study of Zoroastrianism 

Michael Stausberg 

University of Bergen, Department of Archaeology, History, Culture Studies and 
P.O. Box 7805, 5020 Bergen, Norway 
Michael. Stausberg@ahkr. uib. no 


The academic study of Zoroastrianism goes back to the seventeenth century. It was a 
classic topic in the History of Religions as an academic discipline throughout its for- 
mative period. Zoroastrianism has become less visible on the field of the History of 
Religions since the 1970s. This, however, does not mean that there was no progress in 
Zoroastrian Studies since that time. Quite to the contrary, despite the customary ten- 
dency to paint a gloomy picture of the progress of Zoroastrian Studies, scholarship in 
this field has advanced considerably in recent decades. The present article sketches 
eighteen major subjects of innovative recent research activities. Topics include textual 
studies, law, astrology, secondary sources, religion and politics, regional diversity, mar- 
ginalization, impact on and interaction with other religious traditions, the modern 
communities in India, Iran, and various "diasporic" settings as well as gender, rituals, 
and outside reception. The article concludes by sketching some prospects for the study 
of Zoroastrianism. 


Zoroastrianism, Parsis, Iran, Iranian Studies, philology, history of scholarship 

. . . 'finality' is as dangerous a thing in scholarship as in politics. 

(Max Muller [1867:137]) 

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/156852708X310536 

5 62 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

Introduction: The Study of Zoroastrianism and the History of 
Religions 1 

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest living religions in the world. It has a 
very rich history and was the dominant religious tradition of pre-Islamic 
Iran. Zoroastrians lived in close neighbourhood to adherents of various 
other religions such as Jews, Christians, Manicheans, Buddhists, and 
others. It is generally held that Zoroastrianism made an impact on sev- 
eral of these religions — as well as on Islam in its formative period. The 
(presumed) widespread influence of Zoroastrianism on neighbouring 
religions is probably one of the main reasons why several generations of 
scholars have shown an interest in this religion. 2 

The spread of Islam led to the marginalization of Zoroastrianism in 
Iran and promoted its relocation to the Indian subcontinent. Nowadays, 
the majority of Zoroastrians (probably some 130,000 worldwide) are 
living in Western India. Sizeable groups of Zoroastrians are to be found 
in Iran (where the religion is an officially recognised religious minority) as 
well as in England, Canada, the United States, the Gulf States, and Austra- 
lia. There are smaller groups in various other countries. 

The study of Zoroastrianism as an academic enterprise harks back to 
the beginnings of Orientalism in the late 17th century. The first book on 
ancient Iranian religion was published by Thomas Hyde, an Oxford 
scholar of Arabic, Semitic, and Persian, in 1700 (Stroumsa 2002). The 
book also contained the first translation of a late, but important Persian 
Zoroastrian text in a European language. These early studies were still 
firmly grounded in biblical and apologetic presuppositions (Stausberg 
1998a, 2001). The study of the oldest Zoroastrian scripture began as a 
result of the Orientalist expedition of the French scholar Abraham Hya- 
cinthe Anquetil Duperron (Stausberg 1998b) and his Le Zend-Avesta from 

11 For a comprehensive review of the study of Zoroastrianism (including reflections on 
its disintegrated state, short profiles of main protagonists, a discussion of some attempts 
to map main approaches and the contribution of Zoroastrians and Iranians as well as 
the impact of the study of Zoroastrianism on modern Zoroastrianism), see my chapter 
in the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Scholarship in Religious Studies (edited by 
Gregory Alles). 

2) See Sundermann (2008:163): "The fact that Zoroastrianism inspired and enriched 
other religions in many ways allows us to call the religion of Zoroaster a world religion." 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 563 

1771. Its philological bases solidified with the establishment of compara- 
tive Indo-European linguistics in the first half of the 19th century. 

As is well-known, Friedrich Max Muller tried to adapt the scholarly 
program of the science of language to establish a new science of religion 
(Muller 1873). Muller was of course familiar with the linguistic studies 
of the ancient Zoroastrian texts that had been carried out by Burnouf, 
Haug, Spiegel, and others. Several essays reviewing these studies, assem- 
bled in the first volume of his Chips from a German Workshop, bear 
witness to the great interest Muller took in the contemporaneous devel- 
opment of Zoroastrian Studies (Muller 1867:81-103, 118-180). This 
is hardly surprising, since "next to Sanskrit, there is no more ancient 
language than Zend — and that, next to the Veda, there is, among the 
Aryan nations, no more primitive religious code than the Zend-Avesta" 
(Muller 1867:119-120). 

Alongside the continued specialist philological and linguistic study 
of the Zoroastrian texts (for a partial history see Kellens [2006]), several 
of the leading protagonists of the nascent field, or "science," of the His- 
tory of Religions partly built their careers around writing on Zoroastri- 
anism. Consider the following cases. 3 In 1864, long before his doctorate 
and eventual appointment to the chair in Leiden (1877), Cornelis 
Petrus Tiele published a book with the title De godsdienst van Zarathus- 
tra: van haar ontstaan in Baktrie tot den val van het Oud-Perzische Rijk 
(The Religion of Zarathustra: From its Origin in Bactria to the Fall of the 
Ancient Persian Empire) (Tiele 1864). When still at Oslo, in the autumn 
term 1898 William Brede Kristensen (who would eventually succeed 
Tiele on the Leiden chair) lectured on Zoroastrianism (Ruud 1998:284), 
but he never published a book on the subject. Nathan Soderblom, the 
first Swedish scholar of the History of Religions, was trained in Iranian 
studies in Paris and wrote his early scholarly works on Zoroastrianism 
(Soderblom 1899, 1901) before obtaining the first chair in the field 
in Sweden (in Uppsala). In 1912 Soderblom was called to the new 
chair in the History of Religions in Leipzig, while the Berlin chair had 
already been occupied by the Danish scholar Edvard Lehmann in 1910. 
Lehmann, who would shortly thereafter move to Lund (Sweden), had 

31 See Stausberg (2007a) for the early history of the study of religion(s) in Western 

5 64 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

likewise largely gained his scholarly reputation with a work on Zoro- 
aster and ancient Iranian religion (Lehmann 1899-1902). Soderblom 
and Lehmann were not only friends, but also shared a firm Protestant 
belief and to some extent an apologetic agenda. This was not the case 
with the Italian historian of religions Raffaele Pettazzoni. Although 
mostly known for his comparative studies and his work on Mediterra- 
nean religions, a couple of years before the establishment of his chair at 
the University of Rome in 1923 Pettazzoni also published a book on 
the history of ancient Zoroastrianism (Pettazzoni 1920). None of these 
works, however, have had a lasting impact on the specialist study of 
Iranian religions. The one historian of religions who was as much as a 
specialist as a generalist was Pettazzoni's successor as president of the 
International Association for the History of Religions, the Swede Geo 
Widengren, whose work situated Iranian religions firmly within Near 
Eastern religious history. 

Zoroastrianism in Numen 

It is a telling sign of the status earlier held by the study of Zoroastrianism 
in the History of Religions that the content of the first two numbers of 
this journal {Numen 1954 and 1955) was, at least page-wise, dominated 
by two lengthy articles by Widengren entitled "Stand und Aufgaben der 
iranischen Religionsgeschichte" ("The Present State and Future Tasks of 
the Study of Iranian Religious History"). The collated text of the two 
articles of 68 and 88 pages respectively was published as a separate book 
by Brill in 1955. Contrary to what its title might suggest, the text is less 
a survey of the state of the art of the study of Iranian religions; it rather 
unfolds Widengrens own view, which he later revised into a survey work 
(Widengren 1965). The first article starts with a (still valid) plea for com- 
bining philological and historical approaches to the study of pre-Islamic 
religion and proceeds to presenting an extensive "phenomenological" 
survey of such issues as cosmology, the belief in supreme deities ("Hoch- 
gottglaube," one of Widengrens favourite ideas), the concepts of soul, 
eschatology and apocalypticism (two of his main fields of interest), pri- 
mordial figures and saviours, myths and legends, cult and ritual including 
annual festivals (a hobbyhorse of the so-called Uppsala school) and other 
rites (e.g. sacrifice), cultic and secret societies (another Uppsala idea), 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 565 

priests, cultic places and temples, oral and written transmission and 
sacred kingship (again promoting interpretations peculiar to the Uppsala 
school). At the end of his first article, Widengren points to the lack of 
comprehensive studies on ethics in Iranian religiosity and on forms of 
prayer among Iranian peoples (Widengren 1954:83). 4 The second article 
changes from the phenomenological to the historical mode. The bulk of 
the article is a reconstruction of what Widengren considered as the main 
epochs of pre- Islamic religious history and their features, including an 
extensive discussion of the religious "type" and message of Zoroaster and 
various digressions about the influence Iranian religion (rather than 
Zoroastrianism in a stricter sense) exerted on its neighbours. This last 
point is the topic of the much shorter third part of the article (Widengren 
1955:128-132). 5 Widengren concludes by inviting his fellow scholars to 
pay particular attention to the rich treasures of the Middle Persian (Pahl- 
avi) literature. 6 

Shortly after Widengren's book-length articles, Numen featured an 
article about the date and teaching of Zarathustra by the Reverend C.F. 
Whitley (1957). A little later, the journal published an exchange 
between the Slovenian/Polish Iranologist Marijan Mole and his Belgian 
adversary Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin (Duchesne-Guillemin 1961; 
Mole 1961) prompted by the former's structural-eschatological inter- 
pretation of ancient Iranian religion (e.g. Mole 1960). At the same time, 
the American Iranologist Richard Frye discussed Dumezil's theory and 

4) There still is no comprehensive scholarly study of Zoroastrian ethics and morality, 
but see Kreyenbroek (1997); Gignoux (2000/2001). 

5) As Ab de Jong reminded me, Widengren was the main protagonist of an "Iranian/ 
Zoroastrian" interpretation of the origins of Manichaeism (see Widengren 1961a). 
The pendulum has since swung to an interpretation favouring Christian backgrounds. 
More recent scholarship has pointed to (among other things) Iranian/Zoroastrian ele- 
ments in Manichaean terminology (Colditz 2000), ritual (BeDuhn 2002), or prophe- 
tology (Sundermann 2004) as well as the polemical interactions between both religions 
(Sundermann 2001b, 2001c) and their use of identical deities and demons (e.g. Sun- 
dermann 2003) or mythological adaptations on the side of Manichaeism (Sunder- 
mann 2008:160-161). For reviews of the discussion on the Iranian/Zoroastrian 
elements in Zoroastrianism see Rudolph (1992:66-79); Skjasrvo (1995); Sundermann 

6) The re-evaluation of the importance of the Pahlavi sources resonates with the work 
of scholars like Mole, Zaehner, and Boyce. 

566 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

its application to Avestan studies (followed up by Kuiper 1961), and 
Kurt Rudolph presented an insightful review of the discussion about 
the religious "type" of Zarathustra (Rudolph 1961). Further articles 
published during the 1960s were by Jacob Neusner (1965), Marina 
Vesci (1968), and John Hinnells (1969). 

From the year 1970 onwards, however, Zoroastrianism disappeared as 
an object of study in its own right from the pages of the journal. While 
it is mentioned in some general articles or in articles on neighbouring 
religions such as Manichaeism, with one partial exception (Hasenfratz 
[1983] on different forms of dualism in Iran), 7 no more articles on Zoro- 
astrianism were published in Numen after 1969! 8 This is an impressive 
testimony to the marginalization of Zoroastrian Studies in our scholarly 
field. 9 The readers of this journal may therefore benefit from an account 
of the more recent development of the study of Zoroastrianism. General 
sources of information are the obvious point to start with. 

Surveys and Introductions 

Before my own trilogy (Stausberg 2002a, 2002b, 2004) 10 no general 
extensive survey work had been published since the 1960s (Zaehner 

7) The essay by Hasenfratz has largely remained unnoticed in more specialized stud- 
ies. Fore recent discussions of the classical question of Zoroastrian "theology" in terms 
of dualism/monotheism/polytheism see Stausberg (2003); Hultgard (2004); Panaino 
(2004a); Kellens (2005: a discussion of previous interpretations); Kreyenbroek (2006). 

8) Since the mid 1990s Manfred Hutter and the present author at least contributed a 
series of reviews of some relevant books from this field. 

9) Taking a look at other journals in the study of religion(s) does not change the pic- 
ture much. Just like Numen, History of Religions published several articles on Iran/ 
Zoroastrianism in the 1960s, but then it disappears, with two exceptions in the 1980s 
(Darrow 1987; Lincoln 1988). In addition Zoroastrianism was featured in Lincoln's 
Indo-European studies published in that journal from the late 1970s and early 1980s. 
In the early years of the present millennium, Lincoln returned to Zoroastrian issues in 
relation to his critique of the validity of the Indo-European hypothesis (Lincoln 2001) 
and in relation to his new interest in the Empire of the Achaemenians (for a synthesis 
see now Lincoln [2007]). A further article that appeared in HR is Moazami (2005). 
Religion published merely one article on Zoroastrianism in its entire history (Williams 

10) The first volume reviews Zoroastrian history from the origins to the pre-colonial 
periods in India and Iran. The second volume presents a survey of the modern 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 567 

1961; Duchesne-Guillemin 1962; Widengren 1965). 11 The monumen- 
tal History of Zoroastrianism by Mary Boyce, the towering figure of 
Zoroastrian studies in the last decades of the 20th century, is still 
incomplete. 12 Three volumes are hitherto published (Boyce 1975 [3rd 
ed. 1996], 1982; Boyce and Grenet 1991). The work is currently being 
continued by the Dutch historian of ancient religions Albert de Jong 
(Leiden), but the remaining three to four volumes will certainly take 
another decade, if not much more, to be completed. 

Mary Boyce has also written a masterly survey of Zoroastrian history 
(1979 with several reprints) which is often used as a textbook. Other 
introductory textbooks are thematically arranged (Clark 1998; Staus- 
berg 2005 [English edition in preparation]). Readers seeking introduc- 
tory information will naturally consult the entries in encyclopedias 
such as the Encyclopedia of Religion (all entries on Zoroastrianism revised 
in the second edition) or the Brill Dictionary of Religion and handbooks 
of the History of Religions, world religions, or ancient religion (far too 
many to even list here). 

There exists neither a scholarly handbook of Zoroastrianism nor a 
specialist journal or an encyclopedia. However, the monumental Ency- 
clopedia Iranica (1982 ff.) provides a plethora of relevant entries for the 
specialists. In recent years, the continued publication of fascicles is sup- 
plemented by online-publication of articles scheduled for later volumes 
with open access ( 

Collections of source materials are obviously highly useful for teach- 
ing purposes (and for research for the non-specialist). Specimens of that 

developments in India and Iran as well as the emergence of world-wide Zoroastrian 
communities; it also sketches Mazdasnan and discusses issues of gender. The third 
volume presents the total spectrum of Zoroastrian rituals (rites, liturgies, festivals) as 
they are practiced in India and Iran. It is supplemented by two CDs containing pic- 
tures and short videos of Zoroastrian rituals. 

u) The most up to date and complete survey on Zoroastrian history available in Eng- 
lish was edited by two upper class Parsi ladies from Mumbai (Godrej and Mistree 
2002). The book contains 41 chapters (by 36 authors including scholars, priests, com- 
munity activists and lay-scholars) addressing a vast variety of topics. The sheer number 
and superb quality of the more than 1,000 illustrations (some conveniently assembled 
from previous publications, but many original) will grant this volume a lasting place 
in the libraries of Zoroastrian scholars. 
12) A collection of her essays is in preparation for a reprint series. 

568 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

genre are available in English (Zaehner 1956 [several later editions]; 
Malandra 1983; Boyce 1984 [latest reprint 2006]), German (Widen- 
gren 1961b), Danish (Barr and Asmussen 1997), and Norwegian 
(Skjasrvo 2003a). The selection of texts naturally mirrors the research 
interests of the translators. The volume by Boyce is unique since it also 
includes modern source materials as well as modern Western secondary 
sources. The website (administered by an American 
"convert" to the religion) has over the years developed into a veritable 
archive of Zoroastrian scriptures, but its scholarly value is limited since 
it mainly uses dated translations and transcriptions. 

Personality Clashes and Gloomy Pictures 

It is part of the self- awareness of most scholars of Zoroastrianism that 
the past scholarly debates in our field were exceptionally violent (see 
e.g. Hinnells 2000:23; Kellens 2003:213). Moreover, it is customary to 
paint a gloomy picture of the state of affairs in the study of Zoroastrian- 
ism. I think both views need qualification. 

The first concern, it seems to me, mainly bears witness to the isolation 
of Zoroastrian studies. For I doubt whether the debates in our field have 
been any more tumultuous than those in the study of, say, Buddhism, 
Hinduism, or Islam. However, as Albert de Jong has reminded me (per- 
sonal communication), it may well be that several leading scholars of 
Zoroastrianism were prone to attacks ad hominem. Moreover, as de Jong 
also points out, the very limited size of the active scholarly community 
often implies that criticizing an idea to some extent may be taken as 
criticizing a specific person. For these reasons even relatively minor schol- 
arly disagreements may result in personality clashes (and vice versa). 

Turning to the second point, institutional prospects by and large 
tend to be grim for the kind of studies we are engaged in (at least in 
Europe), and contemporary scholars all have their limitations just as 
much as their predecessors did (only that those of the latter tend to be 
forgotten, while one is by nature constantly reminded of one's own 
shortcomings). At least to my eyes, a dispassionate review of scholarly 
work during the past two decades reveals several bright spots. I would 
even go so far as to say that the field has been as vibrant during this 
period as never before in its history. 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 569 

A Catalogue of Areas of Innovative Research 

At the danger of a fairly subjective selection and taking the risk of 
offending some colleagues who might feel that their work should have 
been featured more prominently, let me point out some major achieve- 
ments. The following is my (sic!) selection of eighteen major areas of 
innovative research activities during the past two decades. 13 "Major" 
here refers not only to the relative importance of the areas, but also to 
the degree of scholarly commitment to these subjects. The following 
list does as a rule not include topics that may well require further study, 
but on which relatively little has been published so far. This includes 
work on topics such as conceptions of the body (Williams 1989), food 
regulations (Gignoux 1994), medicine and anthropology in general 
(Gignoux 2001), animals (Moozami 2005), as well as ethics and moral- 
ity in Zoroastrianism (see above note 3). 

The following catalogue is not arranged according to priority, but 
roughly follows a chronological order with regard to the history of 
Zoroastrianism. All scholarly work (including my own) is subject to 
criticism and necessarily of uneven quality, but as much as I can I have 
resisted the temptation to be judgmental and dismissive. In view of 
restrictions of space these areas of research can only be touched upon 
very briefly and all would require extensive critical discussion and con- 
textualization. A critical discussion of the work outlined in the follow- 
ing pages would have required a series of articles running at least into 
the same length as Widengren's in the early issues of this journal. 14 

In many cases only some key works will be highlighted from a much 
wider bibliography 15 The following catalogue is more than a mere 
bibliographical repertory because it sketches developments in scholar- 
ship and points to areas of scholarship that implicitly or explicitly have 

13) There is no hard dividing line here, but in general more recent works are empha- 
sized more. 

14) Note that my focus here is on the one hand more narrow than Widengren's, who 
was interested in Iranian pre- Islamic religious history in a much wider sense (including 
e.g. Manichaeism); on the other hand my focus is broader since Widengren was not at 
all interested in the modern periods. 

15) In the following account, only in cases where relatively little other original research 
has been done have I added references to my trilogy. 

570 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

challenged or changed received notions of Zoroastrianism. The areas 
covered do not therefore amount to a phenomenological or historical 
map. Note also that scholarship on only indirectly relevant areas such 
as the origins of the Indo-Iranians, Indo-Iranian poetry, the political, 
social, economic, and cultural history of ancient and Islamic Iran as 
well as of colonial and post-colonial India, postcolonial diasporas, or 
even purely philological studies (often of single words or verses) with- 
out direct relevance for the study of religion will not be touched upon. 
However, the lines between direct and indirect importance are often 
blurred, and other authors would naturally have made different 
choices. 16 Diacritics are used sparingly throughout this article. 

1. Zarathustra and the Old Avestan Texts 

The distinction between two layers within the corpus of texts usually 
assembled in "the Avesta" 17 has been one of the main impulses of the 
modern study of Zoroastrianism since the second half of the 19th Cen- 
tury (Haug, Spiegel, Darmesteter). Roughly a century later, the so- 
called Erlangen school (which is not a school in a proper sense) has 
placed the study of the Gdthds on a new linguistic and philological 
basis. Helmut Humbachs translation from 1959 was a watershed (see 
Kellens 2006). Johanna Narten's study of the second main text in the 
so-called Old Avestan language, the Yasna Haptanhditi, published in 
1986, has widened the view of the Old Avestan corpus. 18 Around the 

16) See also Cantera (2002) for an excellent up-to-date bibliography listing 484 items 
published since 1975 grouped into the following twelve categories: 1. handbooks and 
general accounts; 2. primary sources; 3. the figure of Zarathustra and his religious 
reform; 4. the religion of the Achaemenians; 5. doctrines (including dualism, deities, 
protology, eschatology, and apocalypticism, as well as Zoroastrianism and forms of 
social organization such as kingship, tri-functionalism, law, and miscellaneous items); 
6. rites, cult, and ritual practices; 7. mythology; 8. astrology and astronomy; 9. Zoro- 
astrianism outside of Iran; 10. Zoroastrianism in the modern period; 11. heresies, sects, 
and political history of the Sasanians; 12. influence on and contacts with other reli- 
gions. Cantera provides very brief introductions to these topics, sometimes garnished 
with his own evaluations or short comments on the development of scholarship. 

17) For the name Avesta see now Sundermann (200 Id) with the interesting hypothesis 
of a Christian inspiration of the word (meaning "testament"). 

18) See now Hintze (2007a) for an English edition cum commentary by a former stu- 
dent of Narten. 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 57 1 

year 1990 substantial new translations with commentaries were published 
(Kellens and Pirart 1988, 1990, 1991; Humbach 1991; Humbach and 
Ichaporia 1994). Especially the interpretations of the Belgian philolo- 
gists Kellens and Pirart have challenged a number of assumptions that 
were hitherto taken for granted (except those, of course, on which their 
own approach was based). 19 Their claim that Zoroaster could have been 
neither the reciter nor the author of the Gdthds 20 is the most provoca- 
tive of their reinterpretations, 21 and has created quite some stir. 22 

At Berkeley, Martin Schwartz is engaged in a new systematic inter- 
pretation of the Gdthds based on structural elements in the composition 
of the texts (Schwartz 2002 [2006]). From a different philological point 
of view this approach has been derided (in oral communication at a 
recent conference) as "Cabalistic." Based on insights from the study of 
other literatures, the Dutch scholar Philip Kreyenbroek (based in Got- 
tingen) and the Norwegian scholar Prods Oktor Skjasrvo (based at Har- 
vard) have emphasized the oral character of the Avestan texts 
(Kreyenbroek 1996, 2006; Skjsrvo 2005-2006), which accordingly 
would necessitate other interpretative approaches. The ritual dimension 
of the texts has been strongly emphasized by Humbach, Kellens and 
Pirart, and more recently by Skjasrvo (2002, 2003b). Panaino, however, 
has at the same time pointed out that a ritualist interpretation should 
not be taken to a priori exclude speculative, ethical, and philosophical 
dimensions of the texts (Panaino 2004b). 

The textual chronology of the Avestan corpus, 23 especially with regard 
to the status of what is generally referred to as Old and Young Avestan 

19) See Hultgard (2000a) for a discussion of a number of key issues. He also compares 
the discussions around the year 1 900 to the debate in the late 20th century. See Shaked 
(2005:189-199) for a critical discussion of what he perceives as "an excessive reliance 
on the linguistic data of the Rigveda" (189) amongst the scholars of the so-called 
Erlangen school. Shaked believes that their methodological premises are "likely to lead 
to a distortion of the contents and message of the Gathas" (189). 

20) See Stausberg (2007b) for the modern invention/discovery of Zarathustra's author- 
ship of the Gdthds. 

21) Also in a number of other works Kellens has challenged several received interpreta- 
tions in Zoroastrian Studies. 

22) Reactions from the Zoroastrian communities were remarkably calm. 

23) The compositional status of the arrangement of the textual corpus cannot be 
described as a "canon," see Stausberg (1998d); Panaino (2007:31). 

572 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

(thereby implying a chronological relationship) has become a matter of 
intense dispute (e.g. Skjasrvo 2003-2004; Panaino 2007). Moreover, 
the existence of an intermediary stratum, Middle Avestan, has recently 
been suggested (Tremblay 2006a). However, from the point of view of 
a wider contextualization it has been lamented that there is as yet no 
philological work done which specifically aims at making the textual 
findings comparable to archaeological data (Kuz'mina 2007:458). 

Since Zarathustra 24 is, in one way or the other, intimately linked to 
the Gdthds, any interpretation of the date of this text implies a state- 
ment on the date of Zarathustra. 25 The latter question remains as much 
a mystery as it was in the 19th century, with the only difference that 
hardly anybody these days would situate him in Western Iran. The debate 
has been further fuelled by the work of Gherardo Gnoli, who has sup- 
ported Henning's earlier (1949/51) but commonly dismissed theory of 
the date 618-541 bce for the life of Zarathustra (Gnoli 2000). However, 
despite all the learning that went into his somewhat labyrinthine book, 
it seems that Gnoli has so far convinced hardly anybody — apart from 
his own faithful students. Gnoli's analysis builds on the convergence of 
several traditions from antiquity that, he argues, all implicitly or explic- 
itly point to this date. Ironically, an American popular "independent 
scholar" has recently used some reports from Greek and Roman histo- 
rians claiming a much earlier date for Zoroaster as "evidence" to sup- 
port a presumed convergence between the teaching of Zarathustra and 
the findings of Late Neolithic archaeology, which would make Zar- 
athustra into the leader of the new movement that gave rise to the suc- 
cessful diffusion of an agricultural way of life (Settegast 2005). This 
thesis, pointing to the other extreme in the historical scenario, seems so 
unlikely, unconventional and speculative that it has been hardly dis- 
cussed or taken seriously in scholarly circles, but it may well be attrac- 
tive to Iranian nationalist discourse. 

24) The two main etymological explanations ("possessing old camels" vs. "camel- 
driver") have recently been supplemented by a new one: "who likes camels," see Peri- 
khanian (2007). 

251 For some hypotheses on Zoroaster's homeland see Boyce (1992); Khlopin (1993); 
Sarianidi (1998). See Shaked (2005) for a discussion of the problem of origins in general. 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 573 

2. The Younger Avestan Texts 

Writing in the late 1990s I still felt entitled to bemoan the relative 
neglect of the Younger Avestan texts compared to the Old Avestan cor- 
pus (Stausberg 2002a: 107). This picture has changed somewhat to the 
better in the past years. Although we are still lacking studies of many 
daily prayer texts assembled in the so-called Small Avesta (XordeAvesta), 
there now at least exist a summary of their content and a study of their 
place in ritual practices (Choksy and Kotwal 2005) as well as an analy- 
sis of the compositional structure of texts recited at each of the five 
divisions of the day (Hintze 2007b). Moreover, some new editions and 
translations, usually provided with introductions and occasionally also 
with notes, but rarely with substantial commentaries, have been pub- 
lished. 26 !^ some extent, these recent contributions facilitate the work 
of the historian of religions. The studies of some of the greater hymns 
(Yasts) have, as part of the interpretation of the texts, also touched 
upon questions of ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian mythology (e.g. 
Panaino 1995; Humbach and Ichaporia 1998; Pirart 2006; Kellens 
2007). Unfortunately, there is still no comprehensive study of that topic. 27 
(Maybe the shadow of Dumezil is still felt as too overpowering?) 

The study of these texts to some extent bridges the distance between 
the Gdthds and the later Zoroastrian history. However, it should also 
been pointed out that we are still lacking a study, not to speak of an up 
to date edition and translation, of the Vendiddd (Vldevddt), an often 
quoted key-text for much of what is perceived as typically Zoroastrian 
practices such as the disposal of the dead, the significance of the dog, 
and the rules regulating menstruation. 28 

Recent studies of the names of the god Ahura Mazda and the deity 
Vaiiu (Panaino 2002) and of the logic and formation of epithets in the 
Avesta (Sadovsky 2007) will be of interest to historians of religions. The 
exemplary collaboration between a Western philologist and a learned 

2S) I.M. Steblin-Kamensky has published a new Russian translation of selected Aves- 
tan texts in 1993. 

27) Colpe et al. (1986) presents a (now somewhat dated) comprehensive repertory. For 
the mythic theme of the great winter see now Hultgard (2007). 

28) But there now is the Videvdad-project: (November 29, 

574 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

Parsi high-priest has greatly helped to understand a hitherto hermeti- 
cally sealed treatise of ritualistic matters, the Herbadestdn and Nerangestdn 
(Kotwal and Kreyenbroek 1995, 2000, 2003). Also some other Avestan 
texts no longer used in liturgical contexts have been studied (e.g. Piras 

3. Middle Persian Translations of the Avestan Texts (Zand) 

The Herbadestdn and Nerangestdn are examples of texts where the 
Avestan and Pahlavi (Middle Persian) versions form an organic unity. 
In their edition Kotwal and Kreyenbroek therefore present both ver- 
sions alongside each other. Not all Avestan texts have Middle Persian 
translations and commentaries, but many do, including the Gdthds. 
While the Zand, i.e. the Middle Persian translations cum annotations, 
were previously often dismissed as worthless from a philological point 
of view, they have in recent years been rediscovered with regard to their 
importance for philology as well as the history of religions. It is increas- 
ingly realized that the Zand was ascribed revelatory status alongside the 
Avesta. We now have some exemplary studies of the translation tech- 
niques (Josephson 1997; Camera 2004), while the study of Zoroastrian 
exegesis, compared to what has been done for Jewish traditions, is still 
in its early stages (Shaked 2003; Elman 2006). Gignoux has made a 
first attempt to set up an inventory of the different commentators in 
the Pahlavi scriptures (Gignoux 1995). The reluctance to look at texts 
from both the Avestan and the Pahlavi angle may also be grounded in 
the academic division of labour which separates the study of ancient 
Iranian texts (often in departments of Indo-European Studies) from the 
study of Middle Persian (mostly, if done at all, in departments of Ira- 
nian Studies). Up to now research has not yet crossed the threshold of 
the Middle Persian stage. Translations of Zoroastrian texts into New 
Persian or Gujarati are still not being studied at all. 

4. Pahlavi Texts and Sasanian Law 

The study of the Pahlavi literature seems to proceed as slowly as ever, 
but at least some important texts have been studied in the past two 
decades, also by Iranian scholars. Moreover, we now have quite an up- 
to date survey of Pahlavi literature (Cereti 2001). However, the inher- 

M. Stausbergl Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 575 

ent difficulties of that language (beginning with the script) require 
patience for progress in Pahlavi studies. 

Several Middle Persian texts discuss legal matters, including a large 
collection of edited judgments from pre-Islamic times that probably 
served as a practical handbook for judges. Since it rarely gives the rea- 
sons for the judgments it reports, the underlying legal theory and rules 
of jurisprudence have to be reconstructed tentatively (Jany 2005). The 
text has been edited and translated both by a Russian and a German 
scholar (Perikhanian 1997; Macuch 1993). One interesting aspect is 
that the text witnesses a degree of professionalization and differentia- 
tion of law from religious frameworks. This is especially remarkable 
given the claim made by several texts that the Avesta and the Zand 
constituted the ultimate legal sources and in view of the fact that 
there was an overlap between judiciary and priestly functionaries. The 
importance of the legal dimension is underlined by the idea — as 
expressed in several texts — that religions operate as "laws." A core ele- 
ment of ancient Zoroastrianism is the family. Accordingly, there is an 
extensive family law, which has now been studied (Hjerrild 2003). The 
Zoroastrian concern with the fate of the soul in the other world has 
been translated into the legal reality of structures that can be loosely 
described as charitable trusts (Jany 2004). The impact of Sasanian 
law on later Islamic law in Iran has sometimes been pointed out, for 
instance with regard to trusts and temporary marriages (Macuch 2006). 
But a comparative analysis has concluded that "we cannot prove that 
Sasanian legal thinking has anything to do with usul al-fiqh" (Jany 
2005:327). One of the most exciting developments in the study of 
Zoroastrian-Sasanian law, as Albert de Jong has reminded me, is the 
recent exploration of parallels and relations with Talmudic law (see 
Macuch 2002 and Elman 2004 [with a review of previous research]). 
Unfortunately, the post-Pahlavi legal texts and traditions have so far not 
been studied at all. 

5. Astrology 

Astrology has been an implicit embarrassment to all views of Zoroastri- 
anism that take the doctrine of free-will and ethical choice as the fun- 
damentals of the religion. Nevertheless, the presence of astrology is an 

576 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

empirical fact. 29 In recent years, Italian scholars have presented pioneer- 
ing work on the Middle Persian texts dealing with astrology and its 
cosmographical, eschatological, mythological, political, and military 
implications (Panaino 1999; Raffelli 2001) as well as the wider inter- or 
transcultural contexts of astrology (Panaino 1998), with Iran being "on 
the road" between Babylonia and India. Gemot Windfuhr has repeat- 
edly argued that astrological patterns are a key to a number of funda- 
mental issues of ancient Zoroastrianism (e.g. Windfuhr 2003). Later 
and contemporary astrological practices will, one hopes, eventually also 
be deemed worthy of being studied. 

6. Greek and Roman Sources 

Greek and Latin sources link Zoroaster to astrology. Just note the Greek 
rendering of the name Zarathustra as alluding to a star (astron). In 
1997, Albert de Jong published a groundbreaking re-evaluation of the 
Greek and Roman reports about Zoroastrianism, to some extent pro- 
viding a counterbalance to the picture of the religion painted by the 
Iranian sources written for the most parts by priests. Unfortunately, 
there is still no comparable systematic study of the Oriental Christian 
and Jewish sources on Zoroastrianism. Some studies have been pub- 
lished on the "influence" of Iran on Greek culture and religion, includ- 
ing work written by classical philologists and historians of Eastern 
Mediterranean religions (e.g. Bremmer 1999, 2002; Burkert 2004). 

7. Politics and Religion in Acbaemenian Iran 

As the first major transnational empire of the ancient world, Achaeme- 
nian Iran is the subject of perennial interest for scholars; however, there 
are ebbs and flows in this field of study as well. Currently, we are in the 
midst of a flow. Major exhibitions took place some years ago in London 
and Speyer (illustrated catalogues!); in 2006, Pierre Briant, the author 
of the most complete study of the empire published so far, set up an 
internet museum. 30 At the same time, we have in recent years witnessed 

29> An analogous observation can be made for magic, for which we are still lacking a 

comprehensive study (in any historical period). 

301 (accessed January 4th, 2008). 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 577 

the attempts by several scholars writing in German, French and English 
to highlight the importance of the religious ideas and rhetoric underly- 
ing the imperial projects of the kings (Ahn 1992; Kellens 2002; Pirart 
2002; Skjasrvo 2005; Lincoln 2007; for a different evaluation see de 
Jong 2005). Still, Zoroastrianism was hardly the official or state religion 
of the empire. It seems that one impact of the work of the bureaucracy 
of the empire was the change of the Zoroastrian calendar (by adding a 
further five days to the 12 x 30 = 360 days of the earlier version), with 
important ramifications for the shape and "logic" of Zoroastrian festi- 
vals (Boyce 2005 [with a review of the literature on the intricate prob- 
lems surrounding the calendar]). 31 

8. Zoroastrianism under Hellenistic and Arsacid Rule 

Compared to the Achaemenian and the later Sasanian empires, the epit- 
omes of Persian political grandeur, the "intermediary" periods have 
attracted less scholarly attention. It is basically the merit of Geo Widen- 
gren, Carsten Colpe and most of all Mary Boyce's massive history- 
project to have unearthed the importance of these periods for the history 
of Zoroastrianism (Boyce and Grenet 1991; volume 4 on the Arsacids/ 
Parthians is currently being prepared by Albert de Jong for publication). 
Apart from being unduly neglected in comparison to the other two 
main dynasties, the Parthian period is of interest for the comparative 
historian of religions because it may have been at that time that Zoroas- 
trianism made an impact on early Christianity — a problem of recur- 
rent interest on which some scholars have thrown new light in the recent 
decade on individual motifs (see Hultgard 1998a, 2000b, 2000c), espe- 
cially concerning apocalypticism (Widengren, Hultgard and Philo- 
nenko 1995; Philonenko 2000; Frenschkowski 2004 [illuminating also 
from a methodological point of view]; for surveys of Iranian apocalypti- 
cism see Hultgard (1998b); Kreyenbroek (2002)). With Judaism Zoro- 
astrians shared an even longer history, with points of contacts stretching 
from the Achaemenian Empire to modern Iran, India, and the diaspo- 
ras. Interestingly, the case for putative Iranian influence has traditionally 
been made for Jewish texts or communities with relatively little direct 

31) This lengthy article on the development of the calendar from pre-Zoroastrian times 
to modernity presents Boyce's powerful vision of Zoroastrian history in a nutshell. 

578 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

exposure to Iranians, while the Irano-Judaic contacts and interactions 
that took place with regard to Babylonian Jewry, i.e. Jewish groups that 
were living alongside Iranians in the Iranian Empires, have only recently 
been explored more systematically (Herman 2005). Among the various 
scholarly contributions to the relationships between both religious 
traditions one should especially note the series Imno-Judaica: Studies 
Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture Throughout the Ages pub- 
lished by the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in 
the East in Jerusalem; five volumes have been published so far (1982— 
2003), with at least two more in the pipeline. 32 

9. Sasanian Religion 

Several sources testify to the special importance Zoroastrianism had for 
the Sasanian kings and in the framework of the Sasanian state. The 
beginning of the empire witnessed attempts at reorganizing religion, 
apparently in order to create an ideology of "unity" for the new empire 
(de Jong 2006). Gnoli has argued that the idea of "Iran" obtained a new 
religious significance in Sasanian propaganda (Gnoli 1989, 1993). Reli- 
gious titles, myths and epical traditions apparently played a large — but 
disputed as for the details — role for the self- understanding of Sasanian 
kingship. This state of affairs has in earlier scholarship been theorized as 
a Sasanian "state-church." The different titles, schools, and functions of 
"priests" in the Sasanian empire are now somewhat better understood 
(e.g. Gignoux 1986; Shaked 1990a). More recent scholarship, however, 
has painted a more complex picture, and the "state-church" theorem has 
been questioned, at least as a static institution, though the idea still has 
its supporters. One now rather points to historical change from early to 
late Sasanian periods as well as to the plurality of religious practices, 
ideas, and movements in Sasanian Iran (Shaked 1994a), not only with 
regard to movements such as Mazdakism (e.g. Crone 1994) and Zur- 
vanism, a variant interpretation of protology mainly reported by Arme- 
nian, Syriac and Greek Christian and later Islamic secondary sources. 
The older literature classifies Zurvanism as a "heresy" (but some claim 

321 Colpe (2003) assembles studies pertaining to the relationship of Iranian religions 
with their Western neighbours by this highly original author. See now also Sunder- 
mann (2008:155-160) for the Iranian background of the demon Asmodaios. 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 579 

that it actually was the "orthodox" faith of many Sasanian kings). 33 The 
emphasis on religious plurality is reinforced by works of art of various 
genres as well as coins, seals, bullae and other materials. Magic and other 
forms of "popular religion" (Shaked 1997) have been studied, and the 
picture of the relationship between the different religions in the Sasanian 
empire has become more complex. 34 The various religions situated 
within the orbit of the Sasanian Empire (including but not limited to 
Judaism, Christianity, and Manichaeism) were on the one hand well- 
demarcated and partly also rival communities, but at the same time there 
is evidence that they shared common concerns and forms of religion 
generally classified as magic and popular religiosity. The encounter or 
confrontation with rival religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and 
Manichaeism took several forms including mutual resentment (Williams 
1996), polemics (Shaked 1990b; Ahdut 1999) and redefinitions of 
religious self-understanding (De Jong 2003). The statement that "while 
publications on Sasanian primary sources. . . have noticeably increased in 
recent years, historical syntheses and historiographical treatises remain 
scarce" (Shayegan 2003:363) is even more true for the religious than the 
political and social history of the last pre-Islamic empire. 

10. Iran Major 

Recent research has emphasised the local and regional variability of 
Zoroastrianism. Some Greek and Roman sources point in this direction 
(de Jong 1997). There is a dissertation on Zoroastrianism in Armenia 
(Russell 1987) and a series of follow-up articles by the same author 
(Russell 2004). Armenian Zoroastrianism apparently was markedly 
different from the South Western Iran version of the religion (as attested 
in later sources). While Zoroastrianism in the Caucasus needs to be 
explored further — especially the case of Georgia requires greater atten- 
tion — there now are some exciting studies of Zoroastrianism in East- 
ern Iran in the wider sense (often referred to as Central Asia), mostly in 
Bactria and Sogdia (in today's Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). Philologists 
have continued to study Bactrian and Sogdian documents. While we 

33) De Blois (2000:6) suggests a Greek origin of the Zurvanite myth. 

34) A series of publications on Christianity in the Sasanian empire have been published 
in recent years. 

580 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

have Christian, Buddhist, and most of all Manichaean writings in Sog- 
dian (for a survey see Tremblay 2001), Zoroastrianism is attested in that 
language only by fragments. New textual materials from Bactria have 
been unearthed and are being studied, but it seems that few of these 
documents have explicit religious content; sometimes, however, they 
do have implications for religious history, for example with regard to 
the calendar (Shaked 2004). The arts of Central Asia in general and 
Sogdia in particular have been recovered by archaeologists and art his- 
torians, especially from the former Soviet Union. Works addressing the 
religious dimensions of the arts and archaeology of Central Asia, many 
of them by the Russian archaeologist Boris Marshak (e.g. 2002) and the 
French archaeologist Frantz Grenet, point to some remarkable 
differences compared to Western Iranian and Avestan Zoroastrianism 
with regard to institutions, religious practices and representations as 
well as to the organization of the pantheon (see also Tremblay 2006b). 
Some Chinese and Japanese scholars have in recent years begun to 
explore the East Asian history of Zoroastrianism from antiquity to the 
present (Ito 1980; Guangda 1994, 2000; Baiqin 2004; Aoki 2006a). 
Since this scholarship is mostly in Chinese and Japanese, it is hardly 
being noticed by American and European scholars. 

11. Islamicization 

The religious plurality of Sasanian Zoroastrianism is still mirrored 
by the early Islamic reports (e.g. Shaked 1994b). Even the Pahlavi texts, 
the majority of which were written or, in the case of older cumulative 
traditions, assumed their final shape in the Islamic period, are less 
homogenous doctrinally than is commonly assumed. The Arab con- 
quest and the subsequent Islamicization of Iran fundamentally changed 
the societal status, religious shape and social context of Zoroastrianism. 
With the marginalization of the communities, their theological and 
mythological horizon naturally became more restricted. In the East, 
Islamicization led to the total disappearance of Zoroastrian communi- 
ties. While these changes appear radical and dramatic in retrospect, 
Islamicization was quite a complex process that did not take place over- 
night. Jamsheed Choksy has produced a pioneer study for the first cen- 
turies (1997). More research is needed. 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 5 8 1 

12. The Zoroastrian Legacy in Islamic Iran 

While Zoroastrian communities disappeared, elements from pre- 
Islamic civilization and Zoroastrianism were absorbed into Islamic Ira- 
nian culture in general and in royal contexts in particular. The Islamic 
conquest of Iran was counterbalanced by the Iranian conquest of Islam. 
Some elements of such processes of transfer and appropriation have 
been studied with regard to law (see above) as well as (among other 
aspects) proverbs, stories, literary motifs, tropes of royalty, ideas about 
the worship of the soul (for all these examples see Shaked 1995) and 
festivals (Cristoforetti 2002). Ehsan Yarshater, the editor of the Ency- 
clopedia Iranica, has published an extensive survey of the state of knowl- 
edge with regard to Iranian themes in, among others, the Koran and 
the hadith, and has challenged some widely accepted views about the 
Iranian presence in the Islamic world (Yarshater 1998). Students of 
folklore and regional ethnography have repeatedly pointed to pre- 
Islamic legacies in narratives, practices, and languages, but this ques- 
tion has not been studied systematically. All these issues, which are 
situated at the crossroads between different branches of scholarship, are 
far from exhausted. 

13. Zoroastrianism in Modern and Contemporary Iran 

On the mental map of many people Zoroastrianism is an "ancient" 
religion. Speaking to various audiences, I have often encountered sur- 
prise at the very existence of Zoroastrians in contemporary Iran. Again 
the academic division of labour seems to have impeded scholarly work. 
Iranologists not specifically working on pre-Islamic culture are as a 
rule not interested in Zoroastrian matters. Zoroastrians are hardly ever 
mentioned in books on modern and contemporary Iranian history and 
culture. The little scholarly interest there has been (apart from Mary 
Boyce, see above) has come from social anthropologists (Fischer and 
Abedi 1990; Kestenberg Amighi 1990). 35 My own work (Stausberg 

35) In Iran, Katayoun Mazdapour has published substantial work on the Zoroastrian 
dialect spoken in Yazd (known as Dari) . Anahita Farudi and Maziar Toosarvandani 
from the University of Virginia have started the Dari Language Project (http://; accessed April 2nd, 2008). 

582 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

2002b: 152-262) and that of Choksy (2006a) represent initial surveys, 
but much more primary research is needed. 36 

14. Par si Studies 

Compared to the dearth of studies on the Iranian communities, the 
Parsis are much better studied. There is published work on Parsi his- 
tory, both on pre-colonial times (Kamerkar and Dhunjisha 2002) 
including the publication of some primary sources (Cereti 1991, 2007) 
and, even more so, on the colonial period with an emphasis on Bombay 
(Palsetia 2001). There are several studies of Parsi politicians, business- 
people, industrialists, journalists, charity, and theatre. Parsis themselves 
keep on publishing eulogies of their heroes. Turning to religion, a recent 
volume assembles studies of religious texts and performances as well 
as social, economical, political, and religious history (Hinnells and 
Williams 2007). A substantial account, in the making for three decades 
now, by Hinnells and Jamasp Asa, a Parsi high priest, is awaited 
any time now. The Japanese scholar Harukazu Nakabeppu has done 
extended long-term fieldwork in an old priestly centre in rural India, 
but since his publications are in Japanese they have made no impact on 
Western scholarship. Other notable work includes an experiment with 
applying a post-colonial perspective on the recent trajectories of the 
community (Luhrmann 1996) and, more relevant for the study of reli- 
gion, a volume based on interviews with middle aged or elderly (pre- 
dominantly) lay persons in Mumbai, providing valuable first-hand 
insight in the range of religious mentalities and practices among urban 
Parsis (Kreyenbroek 2001). Despite all these studies (plus the semi- 
scholarly work done by Parsis themselves), there are still quite a few 
lacunae regarding a number of aspects, most visibly with regard to Parsi 
history outside Mumbai city. 

15. Diaspora 

Already from the late 18th century, the Zoroastrian communities in 
India and Iran were affected by national and international migration. 
Migration has accelerated in past decades, probably resulting in the 

36) Sarah Stewart (SOAS) has recently initiated an ambitious project. 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 583 

most radical geographical and demographical change of Zoroastrianism 
throughout its long history. Zoroastrians have migrated to Sri Lanka, 
Burma, East Asia, East and South Africa, Europe, North America, Aus- 
tralia, New Zealand, and other places. It is the lasting merit of John 
Hinnells to have observed, documented, and analysed these processes 
since the 1970s, resulting in two major publications, one on Zoroastri- 
anism in Britain (Hinnells 1996), and one on the world-wide diaspora 
(Hinnells 2005; for Sri Lanka see now Choksy in Hinnells and Wil- 
liams [2007]; for Japan see Aoki [2006b]). In his work Hinnells mostly 
focuses on the Parsis and pays considerably less attention to the Irani- 
ans. (Iranian Zoroastrians are likewise virtually absent from the vast 
literature published on Iranian diasporas.) More ethnographic work is 
needed, for example with regard to religious practices. Hinnells' impres- 
sive database was created in the 1980s. It will therefore be of crucial 
importance to keep the record up to date (for a 2003 survey on Zoro- 
astrians in the UK and parts of Europe see Mehta in Hinnells and Wil- 
liams [2007]). 

16. Gender 

Attention to the effects and implications of gender in religion has in the 
past two decades become part of the ABC of religious studies. Not sur- 
prisingly, then, gender roles, stereotypes, and constructions have been 
studied with regard to ancient, medieval, and modern Zoroastrianism 
(e.g. de Jong 1995, 2003b), also with respect to implicit gender politics 
in embryological speculations (Lincoln 1988). Some studies address the 
position of women in ancient Iranian history (Brosius 1996; Rose 1998) 
and in Sasanian law (Elman 2003, 2006). Further work has been done 
on different types of female religious performances (Phallipou 2003; 
Stewart and Kalinock in Stausberg 2004b). There now exists a first book- 
length summary (Choksy 2002) of some general issues which, however, 
is unlikely to remain the final word spoken on this matter. 

17. Purity and Rituals 

Rules of purity have been addressed in social anthropology, notably 
by Mary Douglas. This has stimulated greater attention to the para- 
mount importance rules of purity and practices of purification have in 

584 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

Zoroastrianism (Choksy 1989; Williams 1994; de Jong 1999). The 
related areas of rituals and performances have likewise emerged as major 
topics in the study of religions, especially in connection with anthropo- 
logical approaches. Again, this has had resonance in the study of Zoroas- 
trianism. There has long been a "ritualist" trend in the interpretation of 
early Zoroastrianism (see above § 1). The age-old debate on the botanical 
identity of the Haoma used, or rather produced, in the priestly liturgies, 
has recently been continued and enriched by new hypotheses, coming 
also from Indologists (see Flattery and Schwartz 1989; Oberlies 1998; 
Falk 2002—2003; several articles in the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 
9/2003). When it comes to the actual ritual practices, not only do we 
now have authoritative descriptions and studies of several priestly rituals, 
most of all the Yasna (Darrow 1988; Kotwal and Boyd 1991; Williams 
and Boyd 1993 [in relation to aesthetical theory]; Windfuhr 2003; 
Fischer 2004; Skjasrvo 2007), and animal sacrifice (de Jong 2002), but 
also analyses of funerals (including important archaeological work on the 
development of funerary structures), initiations, shrines and pilgrimages, 
prayer texts, royal rituals, lay and females performances, to name only 
some (see Stausberg [2004b]; for an inventory of ritual practices among 
contemporary Zoroastrians in India and Iran see Stausberg [2004a]). All 
these fields, however, are far from exhausted. Among many other things, 
we are still lacking a substantial study of Zoroastrian fire-temples (for 
some preliminary surveys see now Choksy [2006b, 2007]; the archaeo- 
logical documentation needs to be further systematized). 

18. Western Perceptions of Zoroastrianism 

There is a long history of outside perceptions of Zoroastrianism. Recall 
the Greek and Roman reports. However, there are also other Oriental 
sources available, mainly by Christian and Islamic authors (e.g. Shaked 
1994b; Stausberg 1997). Already from antiquity there is a tradition of 
pseudepigraphical materials attributed to Zoroaster and some of his 
associates (Beck 1991; Stausberg 2007b). In Western Europe, we find 
since the Renaissance wide-ranging discursive representations of Zoro- 
aster and Zoroastrianism (also iconographic visualizations, for which see 
Stausberg 1998c), far beyond the limits of scholarship. By now there are 
two studies of the appropriation of Zoroaster in Western European intel- 
lectual and religious history, one focusing on the early modern period 

M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 585 

(Stausberg 1998a), another giving snapshots taken from a larger chrono- 
logical framework, all the way from the Greek reports to Nietzsche's Also 
sprach Zamthustm written in the 1880s (Rose 2000; on Nietzesche see 
now Mayer 2006). With Nietzsche, Zarathustra became part of popular 
culture. The post-Nietzschean Western history of Zoroaster still remains 
to be written, which should ideally be done by incorporating a history of 


As will have become clear, some areas of scholarship are more off the 
beaten track than others. The intensity of the debate, the speed of inno- 
vation, and the available research output are generally higher in areas 
with more participants, but sometimes individual scholars have been 
able to open the doors to new arenas. In some cases, there are vast ter- 
rains to be discovered behind these doors, whereas other arenas can 
turn out to be just large enough for one book or two. 

In some cases, the innovations consist of reinterpretations of already 
available data based on established methodologies. In other cases, 
new source materials are being explored. A third type of innovation 
results from the application of new methodological and theoretical 
insights or approaches deriving from other research fields to the study 
of Zoroastrianism. 

In all these areas productive research will hopefully continue, espe- 
cially in such areas where study has only just begun. Hopefully, research 
will also take quite unexpected turns and address at least some of the 
various lacunae pointed to above. The various developments taken 
together imply the need to move conceptually beyond essentialist notions 
of the religion in order to obtain a more complex picture of Zoroastrian- 
ism. It is likely that the predominance of rather normative views of Zoro- 
astrianism and Zoroastrian history in the past — for instance with regard 
to the importance of certain kinds of source materials, periods, and 
protagonists — has obscured other significant research options. 

In light of the fragmentary situation of the field, the future prospects 
for the study of Zoroastrianism in general are difficult to assess. Since 
several subject areas are dominated by single individuals, their disap- 
pearance (be it only for changing research agendas) may paralyse the 

586 M. Stausberg I Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 

further development of such fields. On the other hand, the recently 
created academic positions devoted to the field (in London and Toronto) 
raise the hope for its more sustainable development. 

Our survey of recent research achievements has illustrated the ten- 
dency that certain hot topics in the general study of religions have also 
made an impact on Zoroastrian studies. Although the results of such 
attempts may not always have been as substantial as one might wish, 
the trend of moving from general insights to the study of the particular 
is likely to continue. Some areas where I actually do hope for this devel- 
opment to take place include the study of visual and material cultures, 
which would help to move beyond a textual model for the study of 
religion. The study of material cultures would focus, among other 
things, on food and eating, consumption, clothes and clothing, home 
furnishing and domestic interiors, architecture, place, and landscape. 
Furthermore, the economic and legal frameworks of the communities 
have not been much studied, in particular with regard to the Iranian 

Apart from such developments, which some may regard as rather 
fancy and which all privilege the modern periods, in the study of Zoro- 
astrianism much homework still needs to be done, and one could easily 
play the ball back to the philologists. For despite some exciting devel- 
opments in Old and Middle Iranian studies, as a historian of religions 
one would wish the philologists not to forget the elementary tools of 
the trade. While we now finally have some grammatical surveys of 
Avestan — one in German and one in Spanish — we still have to largely 
rely on a dictionary from 1904. An up-to date dictionary of Middle 
Persian is likewise lacking — as well as a grammar — and many key 
texts still need to be properly edited. Above all, the Zoroastrian litera- 
tures in New Persian and Gujarati are situated in academic no man's 
land and have to a large extent remained terra incognita for Zoroastrian 
studies 37 (an exception confirming the rule is Vitalone [1996]). 38 Accord- 
ingly, a fair amount of mapping and surveying still needs to be done. 

37) This criticism applies to my own work as much to that of other scholars. 
38> Some further books are in the pipeline, including a work on Persian Zoroastrian 
prayer poetry by Beate Schmermbeck and a study-cum-edition of the main poetic 
Persian text on the migration and early history of the Parsis in India by Alan Williams 
(see also Williams in Hinnells and Williams [2007]). 

M. Stausbergl Numen 55 (2008) 561-600 587 

Only once that work is done will the scholarly community be able to 
bridge the late Medieval or early modern periods and the modern and 
contemporary histories and thus produce a comprehensive picture of 
Zoroastrian history. 

To conclude, the field is extremely fragile, but the goods news is that 
an abundance of research options remain open. The question of the 
origins of Zoroastrianism still seems as open as ever, and a comprehen- 
sive study is needed. Although philologists keep on referring to the Vedas 
in order to throw light on the Avestan texts, only some topics have been 
investigated in a comparative manner (Hintze 2000) and no systematic 
study has been attempted. There are also basic questions of a historio- 
graphical nature that need to be addressed. As for the field of modern 
and contemporary Zoroastrianism, which to my eyes is one of the most 
under-researched areas, my own research agenda points towards a study 
of two contradictory and even antagonistic developments: modern 
Zoroastrian esotericism as it developed in early 20th century India 
(see Stausberg 2002b: 11 8-127) and non-ethnic Neo-Zarathushtrianism 
which has taken global dimensions since the Iranian Revolution (for a 
sketch see Stausberg in Hinnells and Williams [2007]). 


The author wishes to thank Dr. Jennifer Rose (Claremont) and Dr. 
Albert de Jong (Leiden) for a number of comments and insightful sug- 
gestions on an earlier draft of the main part of this article. 


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